A Plant Named George


Monday, August 24, 2015

A Springtime (imaginary) tea party in Sky Meadows, Washington.
My Dad died in April. Having never lived together since I was a baby, the past decade we shared a duplex, my husband and I upstairs, and he in the downstairs flat. When we moved in, gardening was a new adventure, something we both looked forward to. We dreamed of English roses (him), and tomatoes (both of us), and scarlet runner beans (him), and banana trees (me). All of these dreams became reality over the years. Together, our lack of self-control when it came to buying tomato plants, was compounded. We egged each other on at the nursery. The weirder the name, the more excitement. There's a tomato called Bloody Butcher. We HAVE to grow that. And Mortgage Lifter. Well, we could certainly use that. And who can say no to Dr. Wyche's? The first year, I think we grew 12 tomato plants which all grew as tall as trees. 

As my Dad's health and energy waned over the years, the result of 50 years of smoking, the garden became more and more my domain, but he always kept his flower box fresh with seasonal flowers and we spent hours upon hours sitting in two chairs in front of it talking about women's tennis and cheddar cheese and international politics and English league soccer and the nature of reality and more than anything, his life story. A glorious story full of unlikely adventures in an English orphanage before, during, and after WWII and stints living in Saudi Arabia and Seattle and Indonesia.

St. George Runner Beans, made as favors for my Dad's memorial service.
In October of 2013 my Dad became a grandad at the age of 82 and I became a mother at the age of 39. It was another great adventure to share. We talked about planting a celebratory Springtime garden while I was pregnant but once the new George arrived that plan fell to the wayside with the reality of living with a newborn. We did have a lot of fun in the garden last Summer though, watching this new life waking up to the world, the thrill of sitting in the grass and feeling the breeze and watching the way the light played on different plants.

The Georges and Papa and Dutch and Mugsy in front of the future site of the "Dad" garden.
After my Dad died I immediately started thinking about what I could plant in his honor. I figured there must be a "George" plant out there and started my research. The more I looked, the more George plants I found, and the idea grew to create an entire George garden. At present I have 14 George plants and have my eye on several more. My hope is that this Fall I will create a small garden with a brick paved area for a Lutyens bench, the king of the garden to be the King George Rhododendron, which is of the Loderi variety. These Rhodies are new to me, with large, tropical looking leaves. This particular variety is very kingly with flowers the size of HUGE lilies. And they're fragrant!

Lutyens Bench, an English classic.
Rhododendron 'Loderi King George' planted in The Portland Nursery parking lot, Stark St location.
I might relax the rules later but right now I'm enjoying the challenge of being totally limited in my plant choice. I will permit a "Georges" plant but won't go so far as to allow a "Georgianna".  Is it possible to create something that actually looks good or will it be a clashing, will-nilly mess? Will there be unexpected surprises? One of the lilies I bought is looking like it might actually bloom at the same time as the asters are blooming. That would be a refreshing purple combo, very welcome in the dry and sepia final days of Summer. There are so many George Spring bulbs that I'm pretty sure the garden will look beautiful in the Spring (what garden doesn't look beautiful in the Portland Spring?) but with only one George hebe and one heather that I've found, will I be able to create any sort of Winter structure, and if not, can I make up for it with some pots or sculpture? This mission has really taught me how much goes into garden design, something pretty new to me since most of the gardening I've done has evolved very slowly according to my whims and wallet.

Regardless, I'm looking forward to having a place to commune with my Dad come Spring and to reflect on all our happy porch chats. I'll see you in the garden, Dad.

Grow Haiti Plant Collection


Friday, April 24, 2015

Did you know you could grow peanuts and hibiscus and okra in the Pacific Northwest? I like to think of it as zonal denial for the veggie patch. Last Summer my vegetable garden was more exciting and colorful than it's ever been, thanks to a fun test-growing project I got to participate in to see what Haitian plants might work in our climate. It's a project called Grow Haiti from Loghouse Plants and the brainchild of my creative plant-loving friend Myrtle Von Damitz who was looking for a way to support the people of Haiti. Proceeds from the sale of this plant collection will go to The Lambi Fund which supports sustainable agriculture and development in Haiti.

This has been so fun in so many ways--growing things you didn't know you could grow here, the craziness and extreme beauty of many of these plants, the terrific packaging (I'm a sucker for a pretty label), and the gateway the plants provide to this rich and beautiful culture. Plus, through this project, I created perhaps the most delicious meal that ever emerged from my kitchen (more info below!) and I'm so excited that I'll have the opportunity to grow the magic ingredient again.

This beautiful collection will be sold at Log House stockists--check their site to find your nearest nursery. And if you're in Portland and free this Sunday, April 26th from 12-2 please head on over to The Portland Nursery on Division for a fun launch event. I'll be there buying plants and would love to chat with you about growing peanuts!

On to the plants...I was provided with several plants that I'd never grown before and not all of them made it into the collection. The mirliton was beautiful and fun to grow. It was almost a Jack and the Beanstalk experience as I watched it engulf an arbor with its twining tendrils. It really is a beautiful plant with large, tropical leaves. It didn't fruit for me unfortunately so won't be included in the collection...

 Mirlitons, twirlitons, just getting started with their magic tendrils!

My neighbor made me a special arbor for my mirliton growing experiment. Isn't it enchanting? Aren't good neighbors gold?

Other plants were very fruitful though! The peanuts, which I really didn't have much hope for, grew wonderfully and were SUCH A TRIP. Did you know that peanuts form underground? You thought potatoes were fun for kids to grow and harvest? Try peanuts! As the plant matures it sends these weird alien looking pegs into the soil and at harvest time you uproot the entire plant to find the roots teeming with peanuts. Perfect, beautiful peanuts! In the case of the Schronce’s Deep Black variety you had the added excitement of peanuts encased in a shiny, dark purple skin. Stunning.

 See those purple tendril things? Those are the peanuts legs that go down into the soil and form those funny Charlie Chaplin shoes we call PEANUTS. Man, nature is a hoot.
 Behold, the mighty peanut! Grown at my Grant Community Garden plot. I bet my neighbors had no idea what riches there were under the soil in my little plot. I didn't either!

I would have made George walk so I had room to harvest more peanuts but he didn't know how. And he was wearing white socks.

The Scotch Bonnet Peppers were another favorite of mine. Man are they beautiful AND prolific. Mine got stuck behind some towering tomato plants in a plot already hurting for sun and they still went bananas and kept producing into Fall.

 Scotch Bonnet Peppers are sooo pretty. Look at them! Golden delicious.

I'm always amazed at how well peppers do in our climate and these Scotch Bonnet Peppers are one of the best producers I've met. 

The hibiscus, Roselle (Flor de Jamaica), also did well and is a true stunner. If you've had the refreshing Jamaica from Mexico, it's like that, and the flowers are easy to dry and make tea of. The plants didn't get too large--about 2' but produced a nice amount of flowers. I would grow it just as an ornamental.

 Tropicalissimo! Roselle is a true stunner in the garden patch.

And now, onto the recipe that I mentioned before. Griot is a typical Haitian pork dish that has an unusual cooking technique which seams almost counter-intuitive. It's really not hard to make but there are several steps and it's the kind of thing you need a lot of time to plan for. You marinade the meat, then slow-cook it, and THEN you fry/brown it. At first I thought this was so weird, but then I realized that this is the traditional technique for making Mexican carnitas, minus the marinade stage. The flavors are also quite similar (orange and pork) but SO much more intense and delicious. It will really knock your socks off and would be an amazing gift to make for a large group or party. Serve with black beans and rice and some Pikliz and you're in heaven.

Top (weirdo) Trees (or bushes pretending to be trees) for Small (and tiny) Gardens


Friday, July 11, 2014

It seems like there a lot of these "Best Trees for Small Gardens" lists but I have two problems with them:

1. They are so ho-hum. I do love a well-placed Japanese Maple but there are so many other cool options.
2. Their definition of small is not really that small. What if you have a truly tiny garden? I have some ideas!

So here's a list of some of my outlier favorites. Honestly I have very little tree knowledge (and if you live in the tropics or the desert, you're on your own) but play along with me...

Chain-flowered Redbud (Cercis racemosa)

My newest tree crush is Cercis Racemosa growing here in NE Portland. It reportedly grows to about 20'. The pink dangling catkins on this tree make me think of Chinese paintings. Cherry blossoms? Pfff. These are TO DIE FOR and give way to long flat purple pods, also pretty cool looking. I passed on some seeds I collected from this tree and my garden blogger friend Ann at Amateur Bot-ann-ist is going to attempt to germinate them. Good luck Ann--the world needs more of these pink darlings!

Wedding Cake Tree, Cornus controversa 'Variegata' 

I love to say the name of this one--it sounds like a Harry Potter Spell. Cornus controversa 'Variegata'! Poof! It gets its common name "Wedding Cake Tree" because it grows in tiers like a cake and in the Spring it is covered in frothy white flowers. Doesn't it look good enough to eat? This specimen in my yard is 8 years old and it's about 12'. I fell in love with this tree when I saw it in a photo in The Jewel Box Garden. It's excellent for lighting up a dark corner, especially on an overcast Spring day.

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Next up, blooming here in its Dr. Seuss sunshiny glory, is Edgeworthia chrysantha. I guess some of you would call this a shrub, but maybe that all depends on the size of your garden. It can take some light pruning so you can make it look a little more tree-like if you prefer. Mine always gets tons of suckers that need to be trimmed. I used to be a snob for this edgeworthia over the red blossomed Edgeworthia papyrifera ‘Red Dragon’ (the blossoms ARE bigger on the yellow version) but I have been won over after seeing my Mom's recently planted 'Red Dragon' showing off in a big way. 

Chinese Parasol Tree (Firmiana Simplex) at Brian's Botanicals

Tropicalisimo with huge leaves over a foot wide! Chinese Parasol Tree can grow up to 40 feet but its trunk remains slender and the foliage is at the top (hence the name) so you can easily grow things under it and it has a small footprint. It can be invasive in some areas of the South but in the Pacific Northwest it seems very well-behaved. 

 California Lilac (Ceanothus) at Yerba Buena Nursery

If you start them young you can prune California Lilac into some pretty extreme shapes--I even had a lollipop once but then I moved it to a new location and it died on me. I'm currently trying another one, a variegated variety. Hope to share some photos next year--it's pretty promising! This is a great plant with shiny leaves that are EVERGREEN and in the Spring it's covered in little blue flowers which the bees love. There's the common dark green variety, several variegated forms, and even a black one called Tuxedo! 

 Black Lace Elderberry (Sambucus Nigra) at the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh

My love for this tree/shrub knows no bounds. It's just a knockout in so many ways! It has black foliage that makes Japanese Maples green with envy (or should that be black with envy?) and tufts of heavenly smelling pink flowers--such a beautiful hew that looks almost orange at times. I'm not a lover of pink in general but something about this one just does it for me. You can make cordial out of the flowers or wait for the berries, also edible. It's an AMAZING foil for chartreuse plants. It does need some pruning every year or it turns into a giant Cousin It pretty quickly, but that's its only fault, and who among us is perfect? 

Golden Spirit Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria 'Ancot), photo from The Oregonian 

Hot damn, look at that! TWO smoke trees, the common purple variety AND the "Golden Spirit" which is like a beam of light. This is another potential Cousin It but it can be pruned into a small tree. In my experience it needs full sun if you really want to see some glowing chartreuse foliage.


The Perfect Portland Gardener's Smock...


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

comes from Cornwall, of course. I've been coveting one of these traditional smocks for years and they've just introduced a WAXED cotton version which I think is the universe telling me buy! Buy! How perfect is this for gardeners in the Pacific Northwest? I seem to do most of my heavy garden work in the wet and muddy Spring. Peeping Toms take note: I often end up stripping down on my front doorstep before coming inside after a Spring gardening session. And how cool and jaunty is this big collar? I love a big collar. I'd look so cool in my garden OR on my yacht.

Cornwall is also home of the "cream tea" (if you're like me you like the sound of that before you even know what it is). It's an afternoon tea of hot scones served with clotted cream and jam. Oh yeah. Can we get a Portland food truck for that?

Food Works Farm


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Last Spring I had the opportunity to visit Food Works, a youth-run farm on Sauvie Island that pretty much blew my mind. What these kids are doing is so inspiring. What first started as a tiny 20′ by 20′ neighborhood plot by some parents aiming to keep their kids out of trouble in a low-income housing development in North Portland has grown into a full-fledged youth employment project now in it’s 12th year.

Food Works sells produce at farmers markets and to restaurants. They have a CSA. They sell their food at the associated Village Market, Portland’s first non-profit healthy corner store. The crew donates produce and volunteers at hunger relief organizations. They give public cooking demos to inspire and educate people about using fresh produce. And they do it ALL with very limited guidance or help--they have just a couple program supervisors--but have remained the driving force behind all their activities. Amazing.

Well hello there


Saturday, February 8, 2014

And...she's back! I didn't mean for that to be such a long intermission. This happened...

And shortly thereafter, this happened...

And meanwhile in the garden, this happened...

And that's just one view--there are many more soggy, rotten, unpruned, undivided, unprotected, and generally abused areas in my garden. Any plant that survives come Spring is getting a medal and a giant heaping of compost.

Needless to say I have been gardening mostly in my head this past year and I am eager to get my boots on and get digging again as soon as possible. The whole north side of my house needs some major attention. Now that most everything is probably dead it will be a perfect time to finally amend the soil to provide better drainage. And then, well, some plant shopping will be in order.

How are all your gardens growing? What are your dreams and plans for Spring? What pages are folded back in your seed catalogs? What plants are in your shopping carts? Isn't this pretty much the most exciting time of the year for gardening when you really think about it? In my current Winter dreams, as every Winter, the Summer garden to come is the most resplendent, exciting, and of course, well-tended garden I've ever had. What is yours looking like?

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, March 2013


Friday, March 15, 2013

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day has woken me up from a Winter nap. I didn't really think I would have enough flowers to warrant a post but I was surprised by what I found when I went scouting. It really is amazing weather we're having here in Portland. I spent a good hour reading in a t-shirt outside today. I think Spring is really here!

Catkins count as blooms right? The Harry Lauder's walking stick is in his glory and singing his funny tune right now. 

So tall and proud and chirpy. My grocery store daffodils are the first to open and my grocery store primroses have been blooming all Winter. Well, this one has at least. Looks like I need to get some Sluggo over there. 

My Edgeworthia, the star of my garden, has me worried that is has some sort of soil-born disease or something. For the last couple years it has been having leaf die-back in the early Summer and now something weird is going on with its blooms. Only a few lower suckers are blooming and the rest of the buds are still closed tight. Fingers crossed that they will still open to look like these glorious pompoms. 

I fall in love again every Spring with euphorbia wulfenii. I just love that fresh looking chartreuse green.

This is my first year growing broad windsor fava beans which I planted in the Fall and they are such a trip. I love the glaucus folliage and the flowers are really amazing. Kinda creepy in a way. 

My neighbor's flowering quince always spills into my yard, for which I am very grateful. I always help myself to some branches to bring inside. 

The cutest! I cherish the cheery little Oregon violets (or Evergreen Violets “Viola sempervirens”). Aren't they adorable? And they make a very well-behaved and tidy groundcover too when not in bloom. 

This is my favorite primrose and it looks like the slugs are rather fond of it too.

This confused flowering quince which I bought at Cistus Nursery a few years ago has been blooming since Fall. Go quince, go!

The diminutive Tête-à-Tête Daffodil is one of the first to bloom of the species. I divided a small clump of these last Fall and they are coming along nicely. 

My Cowslip Primroses are just beginning to peek their heads out. This variety has done really well for me and for some reason the slugs don't bother them as much.

And it wouldn't be March in Portland without huge swaths of Witch Hazel. I can't wait to cut a giant bunch of these for my bedroom. 


Be sure to head over to May Dreams Gardens to see what's blooming in other garden bloggers' gardens and a big thanks to Carol for hosting!

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